I don’t believe in fairy stories and neither do I believe that the majority of actions most companies take are purely altruistic. As Phoebe Buffay might say, “There’s no such thing as a selfless good deed”.
Yet even in a world where we are being marketed to in some way for most of our waking lives, I still find it sad that a question from the mouth of a still innocent three-and-a-half year-old child has been labelled as an evil PR stunt.
I believe the letter is real. I really don’t think Sainsbury’s marketing department would stoop so low as to create a five-and-a-half year old fake blog just so it could sell more bread.
Proud parents of Lily Robinson decided to post an entry on their blog when Sainsbury’s wrote to them to thank them for the letter their daughter had sent in.
She wanted to know why “tiger bread” was called “tiger bread” when its pattern looked more like that found on a giraffe.
To cut a long story short, a Sainsbury’s staff member wrote a charming letter back explaining the bread’s history. Mum Lucy was pleased. Lisa was pleased. Chris King (aged 27 1/3) was pleased, and is now apparently training to become a primary school teacher. Good for him.
Who isn’t pleased? The cynics.
You see, there are many, many reasons to be cynical. If you can pick at least three then you’re a super cynic:
- It’s made up. Lily is made up. The letter is made up. It’s a PR stunt to sell more bread.
- It’s exploitative of Lily. The parents are profiting.
- Only £3 of vouchers? That’s a bit stingy.
- We’re all victims of a capitalist society where soulless advertising and PR executives exploit us to sell us more crap.
Honestly, I’ve had it with the cynics. (You could say I’m cynical about cynics, but being a recovering one that could soon become an existential quandary, so it’s best you don’t say it).
Excuse the crude imagery, but where much of the world appears to be disappearing down the toilet faster than last night’s Vindaloo, isn’t it nice to be told a story — hey, perhaps even a truth-slightly-twisted story — that’s a little heartwarming?
A story where a three-and-a-half year-old child — presumably one who attends a kindergarten where toddling prophets of doom aren’t allowed — has asked a simple question of a store that she sees mum buy groceries at.
I’m sure if Lucy had shopped at the blue and red store, or the green store, instead of the orange one, then Lily would’ve written to Mr Tesco or Mr Asda (sorry, I mean Mr Walmart) instead. They all sell Tiger bread, after all.
Yet apparently it’s all exploitative. It’s not entirely clear who is exploiting who, but knowing how cynics work, it’ll be everyone and everything.
Lucy will be exploiting Lily by somehow profiting (to the tune of £3 and by asking people to donate money to the Disasters Emergency Committee) from the fact her little corner of the Internet suddenly went viral.
Sainsbury’s has masterminded the whole charade in order to sell more bread, thereby exploiting the family, and us, and society, which will now see “lines for bread like they were in post WW1 Germany” (no, really).
And it all feeds into this giant, wholly evil capitalist society. Who’d've thought the innocent letter of a three-and-a-half year-old girl could spark all that off?
Now, I do know that Sainsbury’s works with bloggers in order to promote its business. Many companies do, and there’s nothing very new in that.
I also know that a lot of the good things that happen in society are championed by corporations primarily to get their name associated with a cause and lap up a bit of free press.
But surely we all have a duty to allow a child’s innocence to last for as long as possible?
These sorts of stories will crop up time and time again. Some will be real, borne out of a parent’s genuine interest in sharing a little piece of their child’s life that, to them, is highly significant. Others will be generated by companies.
We won’t always know the difference, but does it matter? Sainsbury’s isn’t using kids to sell us illegal drugs. It’s a loaf of bread for crying out loud!
If there was something illicit about these goodwill stories, we’d have the right to be up in arms. Yet adults all have brains and free will. I already like Tiger / Giraffe bread. I’m not going to buy more just because of this story. If I do, it’ll probably be from Morrison’s anyway.
There’s a time and a place for looking at company exploitation, corporate greed, and the system as a whole. It just makes me sad when a little ray of sunshine story is trampled all over in the race to moralise over societal decline.
That’s why she has just launched the Aggie MacKenzie Family Cookbook, offering ways to save time and money and improve your family’s diet.
Included are tips and suggestions on shopping for good nutrition, devising a four-week eating plan, sticking to your budget, preparing ahead to avoid the need for ready meals and teaching the kids to cook.
Unsurprisingly, there are also tips on ensuring that your kitchen is sparkly clean, with advice on keeping a clean fridge and freezer, blitzing your cupboards and even how to get those really stubborn burnt bits of old food out of the oven.
Classic recipes include Baked Chicken with Lemon, healthy fish and chips, chunky apple pie and seriously gooey yummy chocolate brownies. If the kids have their mates over for dinner, Aggie’s Clissold fried chicken, burritos, cheesy rolls and the ultimate veggie curry will definitely have them coming back for more.
With brilliant ideas for cooking with leftovers, clever ways of bulking out a dinner for four so that it serves six, indulgent breakfast treats and all the bits and pieces that make life so much better, Aggie’s Family Cookbook is the one kitchen essential you won’t want to be without.
The book is available from 5th October: Aggie’s Family Cookbook: Save Time, Save Money
This is a guest post by Alyssa Jacobs.
Teenage years are a transitional period in a young man or woman’s life that can be extremely confusing. Most teenagers are looking to latch on to something and find some common ground. Our youth are easily influenced and motivated to do things from peers, parents, coaches and society. Some of these things may not always be right so it is important not only to give good choices to our children, but also establish confidence.
The first step to building your teen’s confidence is to reassess your confidence. Teens sponge in everything that you do. If you are to contradict yourself, they are going to remember it. Instead of being stubborn, maybe now is the time to grow some confidence in yourself and aim for self improvement. This can be anything: the way you walk, talk, workout, or treat your professional life. Aim for success and your teen will latch on to that as well.
Heal your past and use that to become a better parent. In some cases, it is more important to be a teacher than a parent. Fill them in with work, your goals, and help them to accomplish them. Another thing you might try is showing your teen something you are good at. If you are a guitar player, play the latest hit! You teens will love this, and it will show them they can do great things as well.
The next step to building confidence in your teen is being realistic. Let your teen grow naturally and don’t force things upon them that they might not want to do. Not every kid is going to graduate from Harvard. Even if they do exactly what you say, they lack self confidence and are only doing things to please you.
Let your teens have dreams. Keep in mind that a lot can change in a year. If your teen aspires to be a professional skateboarder, let them do so. However, let them know that school comes first. If they are going to be a professional skateboarder, they are going to be the smartest one out there. So then, if skateboarding is a phase, or no longer an option, they have other alternatives. Backing your teen’s decisions, as long as they are morally good, develops self confidence and trust between parent and child.
Maybe the most important step to enabling confidence in your teen is setting them up to succeed. Although this may seem like a difficult, daunting task, the rewards for your teen and your family are immeasurable. Be involved in their schools and programmes. This builds a sense of community and accomplishment with each new school year, as different goals are completed. Knowledge is contagious. The more your teen knows, or is involved with, the more confidence they will gain. This is ultimately accomplished by you being involved with all of your teen’s extracurricular activities.
The only thing you want to enable in your teenager is confidence. The teenage years are some of the most confusing times for individuals. Things like peer pressure, drugs, sex, hormones, acne, and tough choices all come in at a time when we are most vulnerable. The most important thing parents can do is give their teens the confidence to make the right choices, and treat them as young adults.
We’re all familiar with the age rating systems used on films, with similar systems existing for video games and television, but a US survey suggests parents don’t feel that adequately meets their needs.
The fact is, children develop at different rates and parents have varying standards for the upbringing of their kids.
The long-titled “Parents’ Evaluation of Media Ratings a Decade After Television Ratings Were Introduced” survey summarises three studies in which parents were asked about content and restricting their child’s access to it.
Although such ratings already partly exist, particularly on video games, the study authors found that they didn’t cover all the areas parents want and aren’t completely accurate.
With movie ratings the most prominent and well-known, it’s not surprising that nearly half of the parents surveyed said they used them on a regular basis. One-third used the video game ratings, while just 31% used TV ratings. Perhaps the situation is different in the US, but I’ve never seen actual ratings used on British TV for non-film programmes.
“For age-based ratings to be valid, the people who need to use them — parents — must generally agree that they are accurate. If parents don’t agree at which age different content is acceptable, that means all age-based ratings must, by necessity, be invalid,” said Iowa State University’s Douglas Gentile.
The authors compiled a list of 36 content labels and descriptors — listed under four content categories: sexual, violent, offensive language and mature — that Gentile says could be used as a basis for a future content ratings system.
“For about half of those 36 different types of content, more than 50 percent of parents said, ‘Yes, I would screen this for my kid if I knew about it,’” he said. “Therefore, we know what content parents want to know about.”
A majority of parents thought there should be a universal rating system for all media, including additional media types such as Internet websites and games, music CDs and games on handheld devices. And given that media have converged in a way that almost all types of media can now be accessed on one electronic device, Gentile says it’s a good time to re-assess how ratings are applied.
What do you think about the current content rating systems? Do they work? How about peer-created systems like the parental advisory sections found on the Internet Movie Database? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.
Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found, unsurprisingly, that parents are role models for their kids — whether they accept that or not — and their actions speak volumes to a child’s development, Made for Mums reports.
Certain sections of the press will publish sensationalist headlines along the lines of “kids become alcoholics when parents drink.” In reality, this is complete nonsense.
Parents have a crucial and active role in teaching their children what’s acceptable, and much of this comes from their actions rather than simply their words. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t cut it with kids, and rightly so (in my opinion).
Mums and dads who get blind drunk in front of their kids, or when they are responsible for them, on a regular basis are asking for trouble. Forget the role model issue for a moment; parents with a responsibility particularly for young children should not be getting drunk at all.
The research goes on to suggest that if a child tastes alcohol at age six it will have a negative effect on their future drinking habits. In other words, drinking from an early age leads to binge drinking later on.
I’m not wholly convinced by this argument. My parents brought me up to have a healthy attitude to alcohol. I remember being allowed to take a sip from my dad’s glass of lager at the weekend from quite a young age. I didn’t drink alone, and I wasn’t allowed to have glasses of wine or beer at home until mid-teens. I’m certainly not dependent on alcohol now, and I don’t binge drink. I know of plenty of other people who have had similar experiences.
Programme manager for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Claire Turner, said that, “parents can have more influence on their teenagers’ behaviour than perhaps many assumed. Both what parents say, and how they behave, have a strong impact on their teenagers’ drinking, drinking regularly, and drinking to excess. Being introduced to alcohol at a very young age – for example, under 10 years old – makes it more likely that they will drink and drink to excess as teenagers.”
I’m not going to be so bold as to suggest that there’s no causal link, because I’m certain there is.
The key to a child developing a healthy attitude to alcohol is for parents to educate as well as model good behaviour. Peer pressure will always have some effect but not all teenagers are going to sneak off in order to get drunk on a regular basis.
It’s also important to ensure that alcohol consumption in the home is monitored. Alcohol shouldn’t be accessible by children or consumed unattended.
What do you think? Is the survey causing an overreaction? How do you educate your kids about alcohol?
It’s the age old problem. You really want to help your child with their homework (without giving them all the answers, of course) but you realise your own skills aren’t necessarily up to scratch. “It’s all changed so much since my day,” you mutter as you try to get your head around common subjects like maths, English and science.
A recent survey suggests that two-thirds of British parents feel they need help with their kids’ homework. It might seem easy at primary school level, but things can get tough later on. What exactly is a quadratic equation anyway?
Parents also admitted to not knowing much about their child’s educational potential and felt ill-equipped to find out more. Part of this comes from knowing that the education system’s resources are currently fully stretched.
While many fathers want instant “self-help” online resources they can trust, mums would prefer to speak to someone in confidence about their child’s performance. A new web site aims to meet both needs in one place.
Educating Together has been set up by two teachers, between them having 40 years experience, offering a one-stop shop for advice on the National Curriculum along with advice on social and behavioural issues which can impact on parents, children, school and family life.
“Parents are navigating an all too often complex educational landscape in trying to understand, and respond to their children’s educational needs at a time when education is in a state of flux, and household budgets are already too stretched to pay for additional individual tuition,” said the site’s co-founder Lorrae Jaderberg.
“We have developed a website which is easily accessible and what’s more affordable – costing less than a chocolate bar at 30p per day – staffed by professional teaching staff with vast experience in all matters relating to a child’s educational well-being,” she said.
Confidential advice is available seven days a week from 7am to 11pm. Even if membership isn’t affordable, there are a variety of free resources including advisory films and online talks, plus a fun, educational area for children to use.
British children are bombarded every day with overtly sexual imagery and references.
That’s the main conclusion of a six-month review into the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood by the Mothers’ Union.
Citing explicit music videos, overly suggestive magazine covers and many forms of advertising surrounding kids every day, the “Letting Children Be Children” report has some strong recommendations.
These include restricting certain music videos to late night schedules, covering up explicit magazine covers, rating advertising and videos in the same way films are, and making it easier for parents to block certain content from appearing on kids’ mobile phones and during their use of the Internet.
Many people would echo the sentiment that kids should be allowed to be kids, and may even go along with many of the recommendations. Implementing them is quite another matter.
As a case in point, Prime Minister David Cameron said he agreed with taking a central approach to tackling these issues but didn’t seem ready to try to introduce legislation.
Music Videos and TV
The notion of a watershed is a rather outdated concept in the days of the Internet, video on demand and time-shifting programmes via digital recorders.
Certainly refraining from TV advertising and explicit content during live primetime and kids programmes is definitely a good thing, but it takes education and discipline from parents to ensure kids don’t stumble across undesirable content.
It’s not the first time that lads magazines have come under fire for their content. Then shadow education secretary Michael Gove suggested they were “contributing to irresponsible behaviour and the breakdown of family and society”.
Covering up mags and ensuring they’re not sold to kids should be fairly easy to do, though many would be more concerned with a loss of revenue by not getting the free advertising a prominent place on the newsstands affords.
Internet and Mobile
Tackling the flood of detritus that comes over the Internet and, increasingly, via mobile phones, is not an easy one. No filters are 100% secure and even vigilance can only do so much.
Much has been written about keeping kids safe online. Finding a sensible balance between automatically blocking undesirable content and educating children on acceptable use of the net is what’s required. Some things can be left to legislation but ultimately it’s still the responsibility of parents to educate their kids.
Here are some resources and other articles that you might find useful:
- Tracy Beaker gets behind Safer Internet Day
- Porn star calls parents to protect their kids online
- Kids doing stuff online their parents wouldn’t approve of, survey finds
- Orange launches mobile and broadband advice site for families
- Full control of kids’ mobile phones now available to British parents
- Teens and pre-teens increase cell phone use during the summer
- Unique family-oriented broadband service offers peace of mind to schools and parents
Passion, or more accurately the opportunities to follow my own passions, severely decline once a step family are joined together.
I don’t just mean the amorous kind of passion which is achieved between the freshly pressed bed sheets. Of course this is true and a stolen kiss becomes as exciting as a long weekend together once was.
The truth is the passion for hobbies and activities increase as the time to complete them decreases. In my situation the passion for golf, football and gardening has become so intense I’m becoming a bore on all three subjects and the opportunity to turn a conversation in that direction is taken at every opportunity.
However I have now become passionate about a hobby that I would never have dreamed of in the past. Skateboarding. I have no physical experience of the sport but I know almost everything there is to know about it.
As you have guessed my two lads are heavily into ‘skating’ and as a result so am I. I know the difference between an ‘ollie’ and a ‘tail grab’. I am able to distinguish between flexible and stiff ‘trucks’. I know it’s not cool to skate in designated skate parks unless it’s run by a ‘skater’ rather than the local council. If you can’t beat them you might as well join them.
I have become moderately annoyed by bus drivers who refuse to allow the boys and their pals on the bus simply because they are carrying a board. I have phoned local councillors and asked them to clarify whether it’s acceptable for people to skate certain areas. I have driven hundreds of miles to desperate towns in order to watch teenage boys jump from varying heights with a skateboard under them.
Why do I do this? Why do I know these mundane facts? Why do I care? Simple – because my degree of passion towards the lads experiencing something they enjoy increases with every obstacle that is placed in front of them.
I have to be careful though that passion doesn’t turn into obsession. Visiting every skate park in the country could not only be damaging to my health it could cause a cardiac arrest for my bank manager.
I’m cool! I’m hip! I’m trendy! Merely uttering these phrases means I never have been nor will I ever be. The closest to cool I’ve ever been is an ill-fated skiing trip to France as a teenager.
This inability to be up with trends has been exaggerated since I have become a lynch pin of a family unit with two lads who seem to be ahead of every trend and on some occasions even start their own.
A few years ago the lads got fed up of me borrowing their iPods. As a result they cobbled together enough cash from their mother’s purse to buy me one of my own. Great! However, they decided to set it up for me and loving named it the ‘Norris Pod’.
The nickname is an ode to the neurotic control freak ‘Norris’ who stalks the cobbled streets of Weatherfield in Coronation Street. This may well explain how uncool I really am, in their eyes anyway.
The level of ‘geek’ has increased with the invention of text speak and the speed in which it evolves. I had just mastered using the number 8 instead of ‘ate’ in words such as m8, deb8 and l8 then came along lol, rofl and pmsl.
After many weeks of pestering anyone under the age of eighteen what these acronyms meant along came a new breed led by the now very annoying OMG. I have to confess I got this one immediately and as a result I tried to increase my street cred by using it when a gaggle of giggling girls knocked on the door to see if the youngest ‘was coming out to play!’
Incredibly I was ahead of the game and this particular phrase hadn’t yet caught on and as a result of my use it never caught on in our house. On a cosy evening I asked the lads about why OMG wasn’t particularly cool. After much eye contact avoidance they eventually broke ranks and informed it was because I had used it!
Worse was to come. Everything that used any similar acronym was banded as hideous and the work of the anti-Christ. It only compounded my fears that my level of understanding of ‘yoof’ culture was out of touch.
I have transcended the point where my opinions have been sought and my knowledge of music is valuable to anyone under the age of twenty. OMG!
No matter how close you are to your step children or what wonderful things you do for them their default confidant will be their Mum (or Dad).
Take for example when they are young and learning to ride a bike. They fall off and scrape their little knee. As you watch the trickle of blood developing you hold your arms out to offer comfort. This is where biological default settings enter the equation.
A comforting cuddle from Mum is the only solution. It’s the only way the tears will dry up. Intellectually you tell yourself that it’s ok and it’s natural. Emotionally there is a little part of you that feels down that; on this occasion, you are not the first choice.
As your step children grow up this natural need to be close to Mum when comfort is needed doesn’t fade instead it morphs into ‘chats’ rather than cuddles.
I know that if I’m in the garden and one of the lads has taken the time to sit down with their Mum that I am to stay out of the way. I presume they do this because they might not like the answer I may give or it may be because they feel safer with their Mum.
I know that my wife will always come to me at some point and confide in me what the issue is. I am now experienced enough to accept the greater the delay in telling me the greater the consequence of the ‘chat’.
In our house the ‘chat’ is usually about cash. They are now at the age where cash seems to be their greatest need.
Recently my eldest step son wanted to pay a visit to pals down in the capital. I knew something was wrong as he and his girlfriend had ‘popped’ round one evening and actually brought drinks and nibbles with them. A couple of days later he popped round just to say ‘hello’.
Lovely to see him but it was all slightly suspicious (usually we have to pin him down to a date and time in order to spend some time with him). I was right. A cash loan was required in order for him to visit his friends and of course we were the first port of call.
It wasn’t a large amount and we were happy to oblige but the law of ‘last to find out’ applied again. A discrete conversation had occurred during one of his visits whilst I was outside entertaining.
I don’t mind being the last to find out – sometimes. When it comes to certain decisions it’s beneficial to be out of the loop and reduces my stress levels.
It’s strange though that I am never the last to find out about buying dinner; or acting as a taxi; or cleaning up after all their friends have been round for the evening!
The kitchen can be the hub of a home. It can provide a place of quiet when needed or the mainstay of mayhem depending on what activity is occurring.
In our house the kitchen has transformed as the boys have aged. It used to be a place where they would help me prepare vegetables on a Sunday morning. It is now an area where I am guaranteed quiet time on a Sunday morning.
Rising at a reasonable time I find myself having breakfast alone usually with my choice of radio station on. I can spend many an hour happily chopping carrots or peeling potatoes.
This is always ruined by either a yell down the stairs or, if they’re feeling particular lazy, a text message sent requesting breakfast in bed. Funnily enough I’m now happy to fulfil those requests with a cheery smile.
As teenagers grow up they fall into the trap of believing that they are the only people in the world and that everyone should fall to their demands. I’m sure if you have teenagers in your home you will be nodding in recognition.
The kitchen can provide the prime example of this phenomenon. Dishes being left, crumbs waiting to be swept, hurried lunches lay on the side and a variety of jars left open. I could get angry. I could spend many hours whinging about how much money is wasted. I could find the regular movement of utensils annoying yet I actually find it all quite enjoyable.
Picture the scene: we’ve had friends over, I have worked my way through the remaining dishes and I’m looking forward to sitting down for a nightcap. The youngest bumbles down the stairs with a mountain of unwashed dishes from his pit.
The dishes have been there for a week and are complete with crusted edges (local councils should use Weetabix to fill in potholes – nothing shifts that stuff).
There are two options here: ask him to spend the next hour chipping away at the varying cultures that now inhabit the mugs whilst I have that nightcap, or do it myself with the radio on.
In a previous life I would have asked him to do the dirty work. Yet now there is only one choice – do them myself, properly, in contented bliss. A small amount of time with only the noise I choose to be in my earshot is not to be wasted.
My wife believes that serving your children is one of the greatest things you can do. Me? I’m not so sure. I am sure, though, that if I’m in control of the kitchen I’m in control of the radio!
The list is endless. Daily jobs, weekly jobs, jobs which need someone else to do them. There are jobs that are pipe dreams and jobs that are half finished. This, quite clearly, is not restricted to my household nor is it a by-product of being a step parent.
However, as a step parent, it can become a battle ground if not treated with the utmost respect. Jobs, or chores if you’re American, can seem reasonable to an adult but to a teenager they are second only to torture.
Me: Do I need to remind you to do the dishes this evening?
Me: Ace, so will they be done shortly?
Youngest: Erm no.
Youngest: You don’t have to remind me to do them because it’s not my turn to do them.
Now there is no real answer to this. Respond by claiming it is their turn and an unholy stand-off begins. Ignore it and this tactic will be used on a regular basis.
My method here is to turn the table and say, ‘Ok so it must be your turn to clean the bathroom, then.’ I don’t need to point out the possible health and safety pitfalls of allowing a teenager to clean the bathroom.
There is an alternative. The job rota. A liberal use of highlighters, school pencils, a ruler and much pondering is needed for the rota to work. How long will the rota last though? How long before it’s defaced? The answer is, not long at all.
Me: So will it be the bathroom or the dishes?
Me: Within the hour?
Youngest: Which hour?
You simply can’t win. So it’s how you deal with it that counts. You could raise your stress levels and spend most of your time nagging in order to get very little achieved. Or, you could do as my wife does. Job for job. No dishes? No school uniform. No laying of the table? No lift to a friend’s house. They soon learn.